Mahboobeh Shirkhorshidi, Scottish Wildlife Trust
Over the past few years and after the successful reintroduction of beavers in Scotland, there have been talks and interest about the possibility of lynx reintroduction in Scotland. Therefore we were all keen to know more about the lynx ecology, management and conflict mitigations Norway. Norway has four main carnivores with some habitat where all of them co-exist. These main carnivores are: wolverine (Gulo gulo), wolf (Canis lupus), bear (Ursus arctos) and lynx (Lynx lynx). This is quite in contrast with the UK where all large predators have been wiped out over the past centuries. First of them to be lynx which went extinct around 200 A.D., followed by brown bear (500 A.D.), and then wolf (around 1700 A.D.). This has resulted in accelerating number of deer which don’t have any natural predator any more.
Most of the lynx populations across Europe are strictly protected and have generally shown a stable trend in the last decade. In the EU member countries the protection comes under the Habitat Directive legislations. In Norway, all species are protected under the Norwegian law. However for many species, there are specific openings for hunting during a certain season. Lynx is considered as a game species in Norway with annual hunting quotas and the protection comes under Bern Convention.
The population is monitored every year using different methods such as intensive systematic snow-tracking, camera trapping and collection of all lynx harvest data, lynx shot or found dead, lynx damage reports, as well as the analysis of all the sightings submitted to www.rovdata.no.
Population, Habitat and Ecology
According to IUCN Redlist website, the Eurasian Lynx occurs in a wide variety of environmental and climatic conditions. Throughout Europe and Siberia, it is primarily associated with forested areas which have good ungulate populations and which provide enough cover for hunting. It inhabits extended, Temperate and Boreal forests from the Atlantic in Western Europe to the Pacific coast in the Russian Far East. In Europe it can be found in Mediterranean forests up to the transition zone of taiga to tundra and lives from sea level up to the tree line.
Eurasian lynx are distributed in north, east, south east and central Europe with the total population estimated to be 9000-10000 individuals (excluding Russia and Belarus). Scandinavia’s lynx population is estimated to be around 1400, nearly 25% of them are in the Norway and Sweden holds 75% of lynx population in Scandinavia.
In Norway, lynx can be found in most parts of the country except west and south west.
The Eurasian Lynx is the largest lynx, and the only one to primarily take ungulate prey, although they rely on smaller species where ungulates are less abundant. Lynx kill ungulates ranging in size from the 15 kg musk deer to 220 kg adult male red deer, but show a preference for the smaller ungulate species, such as Roe Deer, Chamois, Reindeer and Musk Deer. Occasionally, Lynx also hunt foxes, hares, marmots, wild pigs, beavers, birds or domestic animals such as sheep and goats, or, in Scandinavia, semi-domestic reindeer. In European Russia and western Siberia, where Roe Deer are absent, Mmountain Hares and tetraonids form the basic prey base. Hares and birds are important prey also in other Central Asian regions where habitats are dryer and less forested.
Home range size varies widely from 100 to over 1,000 km². Male home ranges generally enclose 1-2 female territories. Densities are typically 1-3 adults per 100 km², although higher densities of up to 5/100 km² have been reported from Eastern Europe and parts of Russia and lower densities of 0.3/100 km² from Scandinavia.
Norway forest cover is 35% which is mainly occurred in the southern part of the country. In comparison, UK’s forest cover is 15%, highest in Scotland with 18% (Forestry commission 2015 & UN FAO 2015). However it is estimated by Hetherington et al. (2008) that Scotland has over 20000 km2 of suitable habitat for lynx which in theory can support around 400 individual lynx.
Although livestock depredation and therefore conflict is very low across the lynx habitats in Europe, numerous domestic sheep losses occur in Norway.
Every year, Norway compensates the loss of between 7000-10000 sheep. This is due the different livestock husbandry approach with free roaming and unguarded sheep in summer. Considering that UK’s livestock management is similar to Norway with free ranging unguarded livestock and a much higher number of sheep in Scotland ( 6.5 million compared to Norway with nearly 2.2 million), reintroduction of lynx may cause serious conflict in Scotland if the livestock husbandry practices are not to change. Although on the positive side, the sheep in Norway usually grazes in the forest and not in open lands and most of the lynx predation occur in the forest or near the forest edge where there is enough cover for the lynx to hunt successfully.
There are also serious conflicts issues by Sami reindeer herders over lynx predation as well as conflict with roe deer hunters in Norway and Sweden. With between 3000 to 8000 semi-domesticated reindeer losses are compensated every year in Norway.
50 to 60 percent of carnivore deaths are caused by illegal hunting.
People in Norway want to have the traditional local management system and don’t trust the national-level management. However for wide-ranging carnivores this approach cannot be useful. Therefore the Norwegian government has divided the country into 8 management zones. The zones are managed locally but they should follow the national level.
Population management of lynx is based on controlling of the number of family groups. The aim is to have 65 family groups across the country. Each management zone has its own goal set which varies between 0 and 12 among the regional management zones. This target is politically determined and every year based on the monitoring data analysis results, a hunting quota is set to keep the population at the target. The quota is different between different management zones based on the surplus of the regional targets. There is also a limit to the number of females hunted every year. The hunting is allowed in winter between 1st February and 31st March. However it stop as soon as it one of the quota numbers are reached (number of females or total numbers). There are also a number of permits issued annually for the problem animals in excess of the quota. The problem animals are the individuals who are identified to be responsible for numerous livestock and reindeer kills during any season.
Direct compensation is also another approach that the Norwegian government has taken to mitigate the conflict. Annually around 2.1-2.9 million euros for sheep and 1.1-3.4 million euros for semi-domesticated reindeer is paid in the form of direct compensation for loss. In theory, the compensation is paid for all the animals that are examined and documented by the regional Norwegian Nature Inspectorate officers. They should be confirmed as being killed by the lynx, however there are many cases which the livestock is being assumed to be killed by lynx due to various reasons including lack of evidence. Usually, in 95% of the cases which compensation is paid, the case has not been confirmed or the livestock is lost.
The direct compensation scheme seems not to be effective in mitigating the conflict as it has not changed or encouraged to change the farming and animal husbandry practices for better and more effective protection of the livestock.
In many countries using of well-trained guarding dogs with the herd has dramatically reduced the predation of livestock by large carnivores. In Norway however, guarding dogs are not allowed. Dogs should be on lead from April to August. Also, people are not allowed to train dogs to kill. Therefore using them as guard dogs is not an option.
Lynx future in Scotland
The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s policy on the reintroduction, translocation and introduction of species states that it is morally and ecologically crucial to reintroduce species lost by human persecution or habitat loss due to human activities from Scotland. However the priority must be given to the species which we already have suitable habitats for and play an important functional role in a habitat or ecosystem. European Lynx is one of them.
Considering that there is enough suitable habitat for lynx in Scotland and they can control the increasing number of deer (of various species) which have become the main treat to forest habitats, lynx reintroduction is on top of the list.
The main threat of the lynx in Europe and particularly in Scandinavia is low acceptance (even due to fundamental conflict of values about species presence) and persecution due to conflict. Therefore before any reintroduction, there should be measures and interventions in place to tackle the negative perception towards lynx.
Based on the current farming and animal husbandry practices in the UK, the conflict seems to be inevitable after lynx reintroduction. The conflict mitigation approaches should be carefully examined and the most effective ones should be put in place in order to mitigate the conflict and reduce the losses over time.